Film Review: Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley and based on a novel by Colm Tóibín, stars Saoirse Ronan as Éilis Lacy, a young woman leaving a monotonous existence in 1950’s Ireland to the titular borough of New York City in a delayed coming of age tale, or rather, a coming of experience. Finding herself unwittingly ‘away to America’, Éilis begins the film as a naïf, clearly out of her depth in both countries for the much of the first third of the movie. She literally blends into the background in Ireland; Éilis is dressed in bland, plain outfits which match the greys and greens that cinematographer Yves Topher highlights in her hometown of Enniscorthy. In the warmer tones of America, the cold, dark colours Éilis has brought with her over the Atlantic set her out from the pastels of her surroundings. This changes when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber, at a local dance; the cinematography and outfits turn brighter, warmer, more romantic. They embark on a sweet courtship, but just as Éilis falls in love with him and settles into her new life, becoming friends with the older girls in her boarding house and excelling at her studies, a family emergency pulls her back to Ireland, where she meets another suitor, the shy but quickly devoted Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson). With new opportunities now opening up to her at home and a mother expecting her to stay, Éilis is forced to make a decision between two lives.

The movie is propped upon Ronan’s performance which does its best to infuse the movie with depth and subtleties, and tries to carry with it the similar stories of hundreds of young women. However, whilst beautiful and moving, the pains the movie takes to remain a simplistic crowd pleaser ultimately undercuts its own complexity in favour of a neat ending. The film climaxes with a scene where Éilis seems to take control of her life, but its content undermines any compelling drama of how she has spent the last third of the film ignoring the reality of her situation in favour of courting Jim. Instead, the film cheerfully ignores it too, despite the choice between men being a foregone conclusion. Cohen’s Tony may be sincere and charming in a nondescript way, fulfilling the role of a love interest well enough, but Gleeson’s Jim is little different, only tall, ginger, and with fewer lines. One is American, the other Irish. The places they are trying to represent are painted only in simplistic strokes, and do not become characters in their own right with the same rich history in the way Ireland and New York usually become in period narratives, and by the end, are even shot in the same colour palette. There’s a dissonant tone when Éilis returns to Ireland after making a new life only to immediately see her hometown in the same light as the big city.

Brooklyn is enjoyable and often moving; there’s comedy in the vignettes of Éilis’ life in the boarding house and pathos in her loneliness. Ronan plays the latter heartbreakingly but portrays her wit, growing confidence and first love in a manner just as endearing. But at the same time, the depth Ronan gives Éilis isn’t matched by the film; the film may have many laudable qualities-the cinematography, costuming, Ronan-but is let down by a hollow finale, that for some may overshadow its charm.